Social Networks in Information Systems: Tools and Services

Social Networks in Information Systems: Tools and Services

Hernâni Borges de Freitas (IST/INESC-ID, Portugal), Alexandre Barão (IST/INESC-ID, Portugal) and Alberto Rodrigues da Silva (IST/INESC-ID, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-650-1.ch020
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A social network represents a set of social entities that interact through relationships like friendship, co-working, or information exchange. Social Network Analysis studies the patterns of relationships among social entities and can be used to understand and improve group processes. The arrival of new communication tools and networking platforms, especially the Web 2.0 Social Networking Services, opened new opportunities to explore the power of social networks inside and outside organizations. This chapter surveys the basic concepts of social networks methods, approaches, tools, and services. In particular, this chapter analyzes state-of-the-art social networks, explaining how useful Social Network Analysis can be in different contexts and how social networks can be represented, extracted, and analyzed in information systems.
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Social Network Analysis represents a method for achieving analytical results about almost any group interaction in which social entities are present. This section introduces SNA and its most common measures and explains its use in the organizational context.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Network Tools: Social Network Tools are software tools that can be used to represent, visualize, and analyze social networks. These tools can usually read and write in common formats and use matrices to compute social networks and graphs called sociograms to represent them. Other platforms have other important characteristics like the ability to convert answers from internal surveys to social network data or extract social network information from existing systems using ETL techniques. Some graph software or general network analysis software can also be used to identify key aspects in social networks.

Social Network: A social network is generally defined as a set(s) of actors and the relation(s) defined for them. Actors, also defined as social entities, can be individual or collective social units that are connected by links. Links constituting a social network may be directed, undirected, or mixed. Social Networks can be analyzed using defined measures, and their results can be compared with those from similar networks. Each actor’s position and connections can also be individually analyzed and compared with those of other actors in order to understand their relative importance in the network and highlight network bottlenecks and cutpoints as well as isolated and equivalent actors.

Social Networking Services for Enterprises: Social Networking Services for Enterprises are internal information systems used by organizations to increase connections and information sharing among their collaborators. These systems share the same features as social networking services but are used to low barriers inside organizations. They are intended to promote productivity by increasing information sharing. Usually, they are platforms that try to join features of Social Networking Services and knowledge repositories with Social Network Analysis. They give the managers and consultants the ability to access existing organization networks and hidden relationships and make decisions for reorganization based on what is really happening in the organization.

Social Networking Services: Social Networking Services (SNS) are websites where people can register their personal profiles and connect with others to share information based on interest, upload photos, or join groups. This kind of website is a popular Web 2.0 phenomenon; millions of people are currently registered, and SNS websites are some of the most visited websites on the internet. SNS represent a new way to connect to collaborators, and they permit the sharing of information and breaking of common barriers. Although concerns regarding privacy issues arise, restricting information to only those users people trust circumvents the problems of sharing it with no restrictions in the network.

Social Network Analysis Measures: Measures in SNA are the metrics through which networks and social actors can be evaluated and compared. SNA measures can be distinguished into those evaluate the entire network and those that evaluate only a specific node. At the individual level, the most frequently analyzed measure is centrality; this can be measured using nodal degree, betweeness, and closeness. At the network level, is important to understand how the network is structured; it is therefore important to measure network cohesion, centralization, and clustering and identify important nodes like cutpoints.

Organizational Network Analysis: Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) involves the use of Social Network Analysis in organizational contexts in order to help managers to better understand the relationships present inside and outside the organization. It can be used in an organization to better understand the social capital, support partnerships and alliances (Cross and Parker 2004), measure the degree of embeddedness of the actors and define their importance in the network, support knowledge management policy and reveal who really knows what in the company, integrate networks across core processes, promote innovation, integrate new members or organizational changes, support the development of informal communities of practice, improve leadership effectiveness, replicate high performance throughout an organization, and understand and improve both the disconnects between groups in the organization as well as connections to the outside world.

Social Network ETL: Social Network Extraction, Transform, and Load designates the set of techniques used to map existing information system data into social network models. Entities present in the systems should be normalized and resolved, and the selected interactions between them are transformed into relationships. After extraction and transformation, data can be loaded in the usual SNA tools. Good examples of social network ETL use arise from community boards, server communication logs, knowledge repositories, and wikis.

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